What do nearly all modern diseases share? Inflammation.
Depression, cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue, autoimmune disease, and more are all inflammatory diseases.
That begs the question, what is causing all this rampant inflammation? It's mainly our food-- too many inflammatory foods and not enough anti-inflammatory foods. Our immune system attempts to maintain a perfect balance, always on surveillance for danger. A small amount of immune activation is good; a lot, not so much.
Obesity and chronic disease are inflammatory states, mainly caused by our modern diet. While there are other causes of inflammation, such as toxins, allergens, infections, and stress, food plays the greatest role for most of us.
High levels of sugar and starch are the major drivers of inflammation. Sugar and starch spike blood sugar, which therefore spikes insulin. Insulin has an important role to direct glucose into cells to be used as fuel, but too much insulin can trigger a cascade of harm.
Insulin spikes drive excess sugar and starch to be saved in fat cells called adipocytes in your belly and around your organs. This is not just any fat; it is a super fat that triggers metabolic and hormonal chaos. It also creates tons of inflammation, called adipocytokines.
As we ingest more and more sugar and starch (the primary calories in our modern diet), we need an increasing amount of insulin to overcome the resistance to its effect, much like an alcoholic needs more and more alcohol to get drunk.
More insulin, more fat storage, more inflammation.
Particular fats might be another cause of inflammation. The sheer volume of processed food has raised our intake of refined oils that contain large amounts of omega 6 fats. As hunter-gathers, we consumed our omega 6 fats from nuts, seeds, and other plants, not from the gallons of industrially produced, solvent extracted, heat-treated oxidized oils. We have also removed most foods containing omega 3 fats. Too many omega 6 fats can inhibit the anti-inflammatory effects of omega 3 fats, resulting in inflammation. The key is balance.
My recommendation is to acquire your omega 6 fats from whole foods such as nuts and seeds or unrefined plant oils, limit processed food and refined vegetable oils, and make sure you get enough omega 3 fats from small, wild fish. Population studies show that individuals that get their omega 6 fats from whole foods do better overall.
Along with excessive starch, sugar, and refined oils, the other leading drivers of inflammation in our diet are food sensitivities.
We live a gut-busting life, eat a gut-busting diet, and the result is a busted gut. When we subject our guts to plenty of "busting," in the form of too much processed food, sugar, starch, harmful foods, additives, unnatural chemicals, particular prescriptions, and others, the tight junctions in our gut can become leaky and allow things to cross into our bloodstream that would normally not. What happens when all those food proteins leak across the gut lining and encounter your immune system? Your body produces an immune response and attacks the proteins, which fuel low-grade, chronic inflammation.
The most common foods that generate reactions are gluten, dairy, grains, beans, soy, eggs, nuts and seeds, and nightshades. Usually healing the gut will reduce or eliminate reactions and stop inflammation. This is why an elimination diet (where you remove those most common reactors for thirty days and then add them back slowly) is such a powerful tool for anyone with any inflammatory disorder.
Use the Power of Anti-inflammatory Foods
While there are various ways food can trigger inflammation, food is also the most powerful source of anti-inflammatory compounds. Many of the 25,000+ phytochemicals found in plants are effective anti-inflammatories. The polyphenols in plant foods are among nature's finest inflammation-fighting compounds. Where is the best place to find these compounds? At the end of the rainbow-- a rainbow of bright pigments and colors found in plant foods: red, green, yellow, orange, purple, blue, and white. Extra virgin olive oil, for example, includes oleocanthal, which triggers the same anti-inflammatory receptors as ibuprofen, without all the side effects.
Spices are another example of anti-inflammatory powerhouses, like turmeric, ginger, and rosemary. Mushrooms including Shitake, Maitake, Reishi, Chaga, Turkey tail, and Cordyceps have powerful immune regulating and anti-cancer compounds called polysaccharides. Foods high in omega-3s, like wild fatty fish, help balance the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio and keep inflammation away.
Foods abundant in vitamins and minerals boost immunity and minimize inflammation, particularly vitamin C, zinc, selenium, and vitamin D. Vitamin D alone manages hundreds of genes that affect inflammation and immunity. So a meal of guavas and parsley (vitamin C), pumpkin seeds and oysters (zinc), Brazil nuts and sardines (selenium), and porcini mushrooms and herring (vitamin D) is an immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory super meal. Not sure what you could make with all those ingredients, but you understand! The best thing you can do for your health is to cut down or cut out inflammatory foods and increase anti-inflammatory foods beginning today.
Linette Williamson MD is a Functional Medicine and Integrative Medical Doctor, who specializes in helping her patients identify lifestyle factors that affect their everyday medical issues. Dr. Williamson uses cutting edge testing to find imbalances that are related to your health problems. She will spend time with you to find out what specific issues you have and help you develop a specific plan that is unique to you.